by Roopinder Tara, Tenlinks.com
On the long flight from the Bricsys Int'l Conference in Amsterdam, every bit of reading material has been consumed. Plenty of time to develop crazy plans, like how contenders like BricsCAD could upset the reigning heavyweight champion, AutoCAD.
B is for Bulletproof
It must be capable. (See Pt 1, C is for Capable.) But that means nothing when the software is not dependable... bulletproof, even. It must be able to take everything thrown at it and not wince. Customers know that when they go with the market leader, they will be safe; for the others, ut takes only one bullet to be shot down.
Years ago, when I was leading the CAD division of a contender, we went on tour, proud to show our new baby to the world. We had stacked our latest, greatest release with all sorts of features. You'd have to be a fool to pay thousands when we had it all for a couple of hundred bucks.
We got into the office of a major engineering publication. Our product manager was on a roll, going through the litany of cool features; oh, we were on a roll. Until the program crashed.
Seeing the blue screen of death, I tried to distract the editor with some spiel about our company philosophy. The editor was attentive, polite. The demo recovered and completed. But we knew it was over. Neither of us had the courage to open the magazine for the rest of the year.
Making software bulletproof takes commitment. A company has to have excellent quality assurance -- before the software ever gets out the door. After that, it needs to be responsive to whatever users find, and fix it. It's not glamorous work, not like having cool features. And it takes lots of money.
Big companies run endless tests to determine fallibility with large files, ferret out incompatible geometry, untranslated styles, more... and for AutoCAD contenders, the biggest and most important questions may be "How does it work with our third-party applications?" and "Will my LISP routines work?" This is life and death for customers who have spent years with AutoCAD. Getting a program to work like AutoCAD is one thing. Getting program to work with everything that has grown around AutoCAD could be the real challenge.
Bricsys has told us that how much effort it took to match AutoCAD sheetset capability, almost delaying their ship date of BricsCAD 13. Bricsys is trying really hard. Could it just be that little engine that could?
B is Also for Big
Autodesk is a $2B company. My data's safe. Every one uses their products. I won't get fired for recommending them. They are going to be around for awhile.
- Practially every CAD user under the sun
Is Autodesk's size an insurmountable problem? Maybe not. Safety in numbers may be compelling for users and daunting for competitors, but let us take a look at what it means to be big:
In reality, Big is in the eye of the beholder. A CAD company only has to appear Big.
Allow me ro once again use as an example the one company that has risen to market domination during Autodesk's reign. When SolidWorks arrived on the national scene, they gave every indication of being bigger than they were. Though the founders may have been minting CDs in their garages in their jeans sweating out an uncertain future, they showed up in the late 90s in suits at big booths in all the CAD trade shows. Glossy magazine ads furthered the impression of Big. They looked the part.
Customers thought, "Safety, confidence." Like the big bank building on Main Street. You can trust Big. It’s not going anywhere. Your CAD data is safe. Yeah, their stuff did look easier than Pro/E. It was way cheaper. But anyone can do cheap. The company could not be dismissed as a small fly-by-night company. SolidWorks appeared big in all the ways it was perceived by potential customers.
Just as important as what they did was what they didn't do. SolidWorks did not build abig building on Main Street. Getting their name on a giant office building to stroke their egos, impress family and friends? They didn't give themselves huge salaries or buy expensive cars. A least not right away. The big campus was to come much later, after an acquisition by Dassault. They used their money judiciously, building the product, the channel... They looked down the road and realized that it was more important to look big to their potential customers -- not their wives, friends, neighbors.
That was then. But who today goes to trade shows? Who reads magazines? What's a company to do today to look Big?
Be Big on the Web
Just as SolidWorks looked and found real and meaningful ways to look big 15 years ago, so must today's contenders. These days its all about the Web. We are we are immersed in it. Yet, I still see contenders try to make a go of it with tired tradition. No CAD company has found a way to exploit the Web. We all Google for information. We read what our peers are saying on blogs. We Tweet during user meetings. I'm buying a camera, so I'll read three or four reviews on the Web.
I'm not suggesting a Web facade, but a strong presence on the Web. which is easier to establish than constructing a huge office on Main Street, or spending millions on tradeshow booths or on magazine ads. If SolidWorks was starting today, they would have found a way to look big on the Web.
Be Big on the Phone
Answer every call. Don't hide behind your Web site. Give out phone numbers and pick up the phone. Whether it be a customer, developer, or reseller. And make it an American number, or at least employ good English speakers. Nothing smacks of cost-cutting like speaking with "Barry" in Bangalore who is very good only at memorizing a script and little else other than providing lost serial numbers.
Getting back to Bricsys. They can't be big right away. But Bricsys can act big. It is showing many steps in this direction. Having the Int'l Conferenece is, in of itself, a way of being Big. Big CAD companies have annual conferences. Little ones don't.
[Reprinted with permission of CAD Insider.]